If you thought the recent Friends reunion on HBO Max would address the problematic nature of the show, you would have been sorely disappointed.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, however, the creators were forced to address the issues head-on… well, sort of.
And yet, none of the interviewees (Marta Kauffman, David Crane, Kevin Bright) took any responsibility for the transphobia, homophobia, fatphobia, or lack of diversity.
The worst of all the interviewees was Executive Producer/Director Kevin Bright.
When asked about the decision to cast exclusively all-white, cisgender, heteronormative actors, Bright was the most adamant that he had no regrets. He said,
“I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience.”
He tried to defend himself by saying that they saw “everybody” for the parts of Phoebe and Chandler, but ended up picking “the two best actors.”
This is an excuse often used by white creators to try to justify why they end up with all-white casts.
But the truth is that if you believe that the best six actors available just so happen to coincidentally all be white, then clearly, you didn’t look hard enough. Because, if you had, you easily could’ve — and would’ve — found incredible Black actors to play those roles.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kevin Bright further defended himself by bringing up Susan and Carol’s wedding. He said,
“When the show gets hammered about a lack of diversity, I like… also to be remembered as doing something that nobody else had done before: a lesbian wedding on television.”
Because, apparently, a single same-sex wedding was enough “diversity” for 10 years.
Of course, what Bright conveniently leaves out of this narrative is the fact that Carol’s sexuality is purely used for laughs. Rewatch the pilot and you’ll see immediately that Ross discovering that his ex-wife is a lesbian is meant to be a punchline. Carol is the butt of the joke again and again and again.
So, it should come as no surprise that, when asked if he regretted any storylines, he didn’t mention the ongoing homophobia between Ross, Joey, and Chandler. He didn’t mention the transphobia with Chandler’s father. And he didn’t mention the fatphobia with Monica.
In fact, the only thing he could come up with as far as “regrets” were concerned was a storyline concerning shark sex. He said,
“I’m not a big fan of Monica thinking Chandler likes watching shark sex to get off. I thought that bit belonged in a Seinfeld episode, not on our show.”
Unfortunately, this wasn’t even the first time that the folks behind Friends had defended their problematic storylines.
In 2019, in honor of the 25th anniversary, the Friends co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane appeared on a panel at the Tribeca TV Festival where they discussed their biggest regrets looking back.
Kauffman said she only regretted two plotlines in particular: one in which David Arquette stalks Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula (she said it took “a lot of rewriting”) and another one in which Charlie Sheen guest stars and he and Phoebe get the chickenpox.
As for Crane, he didn’t get too specific with his regrets and merely said,
“I’ll see something … and it will be like, ‘Wow, that actually holds up,’ and then there are definitely times where I’ll go, ‘Really? We went with that?’”
Many defenders of the show point to the fact that the series was written in the 90s before the public was “woke.” Transgender issues were not yet understood publicly and the body positive movement was decades away from being mainstream.
But it was never ok to make jokes at the expense of others and doing so is just plain lazy writing.
Regardless, it’s now painfully obvious how poorly the show has aged. If the series wants to maintain any shred of integrity then the cast and crew need to come forward and acknowledge their mistakes.
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and The Challenge. When she’s not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her taking an absurd amount of photos of her tuxedo cat Tom.